**TW: This article discusses eating disorders and disordered eating**
The voices of my peers fill the classroom with overlapping conversations as we wait for the professor to arrive. I catch bits of chatter here and there, but one conversation, in particular, holds my attention.
“I haven’t eaten anything today, lol, I’ve just been going off iced coffee!” exclaims a student sitting across the room, swirling their cup in hand as if for dramatic effect. The person with whom they’re conversing nods, almost excitedly. “Oh yeah, me neither. Honestly, I barely eat one meal a day.” They laugh about it. These conversations are funny, they’re quirky, make the students trendy. We as a society have normalized the glorification of self-destructive habits. We don’t sleep, we don’t take breaks, and we’ve neglected our bodies’ need for fuel.
I want to tear my hair out. I want to get up and leave the class and sit on the bathroom floor and scream until my frustration subsides. Besides the concerning fact that we are sitting in an afternoon class (i.e., they definitely should have eaten at this point), I’m fed up with this rhetoric. First of all, it’s annoying. You don’t get a gold star for neglecting your most basic needs. More importantly, however, it encourages maladaptive coping mechanisms, which for some people can lead to deadly consequences. Allow me to explain why.
On a campus that has a high student population who either identify as women or were raised as women, it would be reasonable (and research-supported) to assume that we have higher than average rates of eating disorders. This doesn’t just include the typical imagery of an emaciated anorectic, but also people who suffer from bulimia, people who have a binge-eating disorder, and people who fall in a diagnostic “gray area” of symptoms. Almost all eating disorders involve some sort of pattern around restriction, and most of the time, some form of binge-eating. Countless studies have shown that binge-eating is often caused by restrictions or rigid rules around food. This means that not eating for an extended period of time (regardless of reason) increases the likelihood of overeating or bingeing.
So how does this connect to your comments about “not eating” made in passing? According to a multitude of recovered ED sufferers, eating disorders are driven by comparison. I’ve learned through conversations with multiple people who have suffered from eating disorders, hearing someone else mention a “behavior,” especially restriction, triggers a reaction in them to try and one-up that person.
So comments such as “I haven’t eaten all day” can be massive triggers for people. Additionally, mentioning specifics can often worsen the effect. Comments like “I haven’t eaten in x hours,” “I only ate x for dinner last night,” or “I only eat x amount of meals a day,” are all invitations for people struggling with food issues to become sicker.
I understand that this is trendy right now. The glorification of dieting and disordered eating in our society is nothing new, especially to women. However, since the start of the pandemic and the genesis of TikTok, there has been a greater platform for this type of content. Those who were on Tumblr in the mid-2010s might remember the hellscape of mental illness glorification that was present, and it seems it has come back with a vengeance. A recent study of eating disorder sufferers in the United States by the American Society for Nutrition found that there has been an increase since March 2020.
So, now that you’ve been informed about why your comments are harmful, what can you do to prevent them from possibly triggering people in the future? The answer is simple; stop glorifying self-destructive behaviors. This starts with being mindful of your comments. Perhaps for you skipping one meal, in the long run, isn’t detrimental. For others, however, it could undo months of recovery efforts. We as a campus have taught ourselves to ask pronouns, avoid certain words related to violence or suicide, and issue content warnings before delving into sensitive conversations. We can now teach ourselves to keep our eating schedules to ourselves when having public conversations. This is not to say that you shouldn’t reach out for help if you’re struggling, because you absolutely should. Having a difficult relationship is all too common in college, and there are resources to help. However, for the sake of all our fellow Scotties who are fighting battles we can’t even begin to imagine, we need to stop trying to prove something through our absence of eating. Eating disorders are can kill (Anorexia Nervosa is one of the deadliest psychiatric disorders), and we should all be making a concerted effort to stop this epidemic that’s on the rise. So be mindful of your comments, it could save a life.
If you or someone you know is suffering from an eating disorder, call the national helpline at (800) 931-2237